Halo is easily one of the most identifiable First Person Shooter games out there, and despite criticism over its easy difficulty and simple mechanics, one of the most played online. But being one of the best means that development teams must manage what can be a very difficult balance. On one hand a sequel needs to bring something new to the table, mechanics, guns and situations that are unique to the game. On the other hand, developers need to be very careful they don't isolate their long term fans or even worse make them feel like they've been cheated in some respect. So with the last title in the Halo series (at least for the time being) rapidly approaching release the question remains: How will Halo: Reach set itself apart?
The answer lies not in the games mechanics, but how they're put to use. Halo: Reach is making a smart move by not changing much, instead looking to refine and add a bit more variety to the gameplay that's already made their series so well known. Load-outs, vehicles, and armor abilities add to the fun, but straightforward combat isn't what will help define this next iteration of the series. Instead it's more fair to approach Halo: Reach through its game modes.
Instead of bringing vast changes to Halo's very simplistic game mechanics, Bungie has opted to give players a chance to experience the game through a wide variety of modes. Having modes that actually cater to different types of gameplay means that players will be able to get the exact kind of experience they want across different (but similar) gametypes. Though simply having 'modes' isn't new to competitive gameplay it's the variety that's important here. For example, while most FPS games offer some version of 'king of the hill' Halo: Reach will offer several versions of the 'zone capture-control' mechanic. Being able to look at a single type of player (defensive, team-oriented, solo focus, etc) and present them a wide range of options is truly genius.
I use the word genius because Bungie had a lot of directions they could of taken the game, from a more complex and realistic design, to no changes at all but a few extra maps. Offering players a chance to really sift through and determine what style of combat works best for them, on top of the other customization features, also shows a significant amount of dedication to the community. At least, far more dedication then Halo: ODST ever showed.
Ultimately the value of a game like Halo: Reach will vary from person to person, but as a FPS addict (and someone who was never really thrilled with the Halo series as a whole) I find that Halo: Reach provides some compelling reasons play. While there are some things to be said about the Halo brand of FPS design, most of those reasons boil down the new game modes and how much staying power they'll actually have. Only time will tell how decent the new gametypes will be, but I get the feeling that when it comes to the future of FPS gaming titles like Halo: Reach might be moving in the right direction.